Sinead Noble, former Director of Corporate Affairs and PR at Nomad Foods, has as an impressive communications background with experience across agencies and in-house at well known brands. Sinead shares with us her insights about establishing a comms function from scratch, tips for career success and reveals why she thinks the young England team football players are a source of inspiration.
1. Please can you give a brief overview of your background and experience.
My early ambition was to work in sports PR but that sector was still in its infancy and difficult to get into, so I changed tack and started my career in consumer PR for a consultancy in Soho. It was the heady days of the 90s when journalists still answered their phones and the thrill of a successful pitch resulting in national coverage had me hooked very quickly. I stayed in consultancy for six years but gradually transitioned onto solely corporate clients before adding financial PR to my bow with my first in-house role. With the exception of a brief foray back into consultancy, I’ve been in-house ever since. I think my career demonstrates the breadth of opportunities that exist in comms and that there’s always scope to build on the skills you acquire and use them to face new challenges.
2. You have a track record in building communications functions from scratch – what stands out to you from this experience?
That to build a successful Corporate Affairs function, the most important first step is to identify and agree the two or three key comms priorities and to focus ruthlessly on these. Being able to point to tangible results really does win hearts and minds and demonstrates what comms can, and sometimes as importantly, can’t do. Also to remember to be patient. Building a solid foundation might take time but it will help accelerate the comms agenda in the future.
3. What would you say are the three key attributes that have contributed to your career success?
I think the one quality that is essential to succeed in comms is curiosity. You only get to the heart of a story if you like to tease out the ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and ‘What?’ of what you’re being told.
Identifying the story is the start but telling it is requires a feeling for words and a flare for language - I don’t think you can succeed without being a good writer.
And finally, integrity is vital. Without it, the ability to inspire trust, internally and externally, is impossible.
4. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Nomad Foods was a new company that was established through the acquisition of two of the oldest and biggest frozen food companies in Europe within the space of a few months. Nomad Foods might not have been on the tip of people’s tongues but the brands – Birds Eye, Aunt Bessie’s and Goodfella’s in the UK - were household favourites and had been for generations.
I was there for over six years but the first few were exhilarating as we went through the Corporate Affairs playbook at a pace that at times was relentless. What made it challenging was that we were building a new company culture from scratch at the same time as dealing with some big ticket set pieces such as a new CEO, business strategy and listing on the NYSE. Weaving the internal and external comms together and executing them successfully was incredibly rewarding.
5. What is your most memorable work moment?
Far too often it’s 4.00pm on a Friday! I’m sure all comms professionals reading this will be familiar with this time. It’s just as you think the working week is coming to an end when a journalist calls ahead of a weekend deadline or a colleague gets in contact, worried that an issue that’s been bubbling under during the week might turn into a crisis over the weekend. Whichever it is, it never proves to be straightforward...
6. What is your most important lesson you have learned in life so far?
That big decisions to do with significant change make themselves and that it’s the smaller decisions that seem more day-to-day that you should pay attention to. So often they are the ones which actually determine whether the answer to an opportunity is ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Also, you always have a little more time to make a decision than you think, which is particularly valuable when dealing with a crisis, however high pressured it is.
7. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given along the way, and by whom?
It’s not so much advice as seeing expertise in action. When I was at Edelman, the Director of the Corporate and Public Affairs practice had worked extensively in consultancy and in-house. It really struck me that this blend of experience gave him insights and an edge which made him not just an effective comms professional, but also a very valued one. It’s no coincidence that my next role was in-house.
8. What or who inspires you, and why?
I am a huge football fan – I’ve been going to games since I was seven – and I have to say that the young England players are pretty impressive in the way they handle being in the public eye. They are the first generation who have grown up seeing social media as being a normal communication channel and it shows. I’m sure that they have received some very good advice in the background but they appear to be able to tell their stories very naturally and confidently. As a parent, I think the way in which they recognise their parents’ and families’ contribution to their success is very endearing.
9. If you hadn’t ended up working in comms, what was your plan B?
I have been an avid reader all my life and I’m never happier than when I’m in a bookshop. I think publishing or book retail would have been my next port of call if comms hadn’t worked out.
10. Do you have any hidden talents?
At the risk of sounding immodest, I have a really good memory which I think is normal but I’m assured by friends isn’t. It means I’m pretty useful on a pub quiz team!
Thank you, Sinead.
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